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Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Proprietor's Prolific Pen ...

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Boy Journalist The Proprietor's Prolific Pen! I remember back last May ... in emails and comments made in the shop ... my saying that folks would find the Boss' writings a bit like hearing Gomer Pyle sing for the first time! Well, you got some idea when you read his initial greeting ... Welcome to "TheOldBarbershop" ...characters with character preferred, ladies too ... please take a seat and wait your turn ... leaf through a magazine or shoot the breeze with a friend ... when it's your turn in the barber's chair be ready to share an interesting story, a tall tale or whatever is on your mind ... tips encouraged and appreciated ... no topic off-limits ... if you can't behave, use profanity, pick fights or spit on the floor you will politely be shown the door ... sja It was simply delightful ... the first time I read it, and every time since ... and though it wasn't really a post, methinks folks knew immediately that he was no ordinary donkey, this southern jackass of nefarious reputation! And those who didn't ... his first story, "Daydreaming" surely made them believers ... it remains my favorite. Methinks it was pretty obvious from the start that our Proprietor was a insightful wordsmith of the first order ... with strong feelings, a good heart, wonderful sense of humor, and an uncanny ability to convey emotion with his words. Mine may be a prejudiced view for, in addition to being our Proprietor, he's my very good friend! He's true blue and 4-square(apologies but I couldn't say "true purple", and blue is reserved for links and hidden embedded objects), ... a character of and with character ... now where have you heard that before?! Prejudiced or no, them things are true ... nice thing is, his is a prolific pen and with over 30 posts, there's plenty to read and enjoy so that folks can decide for themselves ... what's your favorite?? Like so many easy questions ... that one is deceptively difficult to answer ... they're all so doggone good ... it's unfair!
For the regulars who've read most or all ... they're well worth rereading ... get better every time methinks ... more onion layers than first meets the eye, methinks. Truth is, Our Proprietor is a perfectionist ... never satisfied and always tinkering ... so don't be surprised if you find them changed, especially the pictures! For our new visitors and/or occasional readers ... methinks the natural tendency is to basically read only the current posts and perhaps the side bar, ... peruse our comments section and maybe add a few of your own ... for all of which we're much obliged, but if you are one who so does, you don't know what you've been missing ... Oh Boy! Daddy was like that ... Sunday breakfast was more readin' than eatin', except when we had fried "streak-o-lean", gravy, scrambled eggs and biscuits! I'd go get the Sunday Paper ... carefully removing the sports section, a defensive tactic to assure being able to read what Ed, Jesse, and Furman might have to say before church! Daddy mostly read the headlines, Ralph McGill ... the funnies, the sports section, Robert Ripley and Piney Woods Pete, though he didn't pay all that much attention to detail, methinks. In the late '50s, sometime after we had moved from Atlanta to Chattanooga ... someone asked Mama how we became friends with Ol' Pete ... I was there and neither of us had any idea what she was talking about ... or why she asked. I never found out who Pete was ... Daddy too claimed ignorance, but the woman said we had to know him ... 'cause over the years, daddy's name occasionally appeared in "Piney's" letters to the Editor and could usually be found on his famous Christmas Card entries! Oh Boy, he didn't know what he'd been missing ... nor did we! This post features five of the Boss's Best ... four of my favorites and one new, just for you! We invite you Evelyn Wood graduates to take a few moments and read each and every one ... all 30, counting the introductions of his partners in crime. For the rest of you, it's a little longer trip ... but, methinks you'll enjoy the ride and get a better understanding of what the shop's all about ... and then go to the polls and cast your ballots. What makes our Proprietor so danged special? Everybody around here has their opinion ... but if had to put my feelings into words, methinks it's that he's like the pretty young girl who has yet to look in the mirror and realize her beauty! The Boss's motivation ... that's easy methinks ... he really enjoys writing ... expressing himself and being a positive influence ... it's as simple as that! Nothing is ever as simple as it seems ... but I know he hopes his Posts trigger some good thoughts, bring some smiles and perhaps a few tears ... cause folks to reflect, to think ... maybe to relate. Well, he can rest assured that they do that, and more ... much, much more. It's fun for me to say nice things about John but unnecessary ... his work speaks for itself! His writings are a breath of fresh air that add to our enjoyment and help make the shop a place you'll visit often, make new friends and hopefully honor us with comments, opines, posits ... and perhaps some Posts of your own ... his vision! What motivates him is pretty much the same as what motivates our Ugandan Dean of Journalism and Economics, jimmy smith, ... our resident optimist and preacher Matthew, and all the characters with character what visit the shop ... and yes, me too! The Russians, don't forget the Russians Bob ... part of the Boss' mystique is that there is so little fanfare ... no titles on his letterhead ... no letters following his name. While I don't know much about him, I know enough ... he's "Coca Cola"! His posts are entertaining that's for sure ... but, more than that, they're inspirational and educational too! You're a rare bird indeed if you can read his Posts without learning something; if nothing more than a new word or two, or three, or more.
There are 10 baseball related Posts ... and might have been more had his Tigers roared as expected ... including my favorites "A Colored Past" and "The Boys Of Summer" ... but they're all good ... no, better than that! ... (1) Fly Away Little Wren! ... Fly .. Fly ... (2) So Long Dear Friend ... (3) Baseball's Attention-Deficit Disorder ... (4) The Dirty Edge ... (5) A Colored Past ... (6) The Natural ... (7) The Boys Of Summer ... (8) The More Things Change ... (9) Comes A Time ... and (10) How good a golfer is Atlanta Braves ace John Smoltz?
There's 11 nonfictional pieces of historical, political and/or patriotic significance ... unrelated to baseball. I like them all and if I had to choose, my current favorite's probably "The Sound Of Freedom" ... but, that's mostly 'cause it's the one I most recently read! Yes, I liked them all ... think you will too ... (1) "Change" As Usual ... (2) A Date Which Shall Live In Infamy ... (3) Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation Of Thanksgiving ... (4) End Of Innocence ... (5) Tumbling Towers, Crumbling Illusions ... (6) A Time To Mourn ... (7) The Sound Of Freedom ... (8) Allegiance ... (9) Honoring the Honorable on Fathers' Day ... (10) Honoring the Living on Memorial Day ... and (11) Bo Diddley, rock's rhythm king, dies. Oops, I just reread "Tumbling Towers, Crumbling Illusions"
Then, there's another group of stories ... some calls 'em tall tales ... and indeed they are loaded with good humor, imagination, wisdom, wit and an exaggeration or four, sometimes more ... tall tales? ... maybe, maybe something else ... can't list them all as it might spoil some future surprises. Here are the ones that have already been featured ... (1) Beefeaters Revisited ... (2) A Christmas Travesty ... (3) End Of An Era? ... (4) Still Making Lemonade ... (5) Lamar lands a sea monster! ... and my all time favorite, "Daydreaming" ... no surprise there! Much of what we do here in the shop is triggered by current events ... that will never change as it's as much a part of the Shop's defining fabric as green tonic, music, whelk and an occasional nip with the clippers ... but, unlike so many others, we hope that our Posts are timeless and perhaps a bit like a good Thorne Smith ... where you can open the book at any page and enjoy ... same as if you started at the beginning and read straight through ... not only that, but that you enjoy it more, each time you read it! I know I do ... Smith, the Posts, and the comments too ... Yes, tell us your favorites! ... the boss' best? ... No, that's yet to be written!!
Well, here's the long awaited new Post ... Henry Goodfellow's Rule ... you can access my favorites by clicking on their titles in the menu bar at the bottom of the page ... enjoy The weathered little schoolhouse had stood idle for nearly two years ... although various souls had nobly assumed the often thankless task of educating the children who funneled in from the surrounding hills and hollows, some of them lasting longer than others, but all eventually departing for the same reason ... a bully by the name of Henry Goodfellow ...
It was common practice during those days of one-room schoolhouses that just one teacher would be in charge of pupils consisting of first through twelfth graders ... youngsters intermingled with larger teens in a single classroom for an entire year ... naturally, this combination brought together fickle elements liable for potential trouble ... Henry Goodfellow had always been extremely adept at sowing seeds of discord which would usually develop into the desired fruits of his labor ... that being his prolonged truancy from the dreaded learning institution of which he so stoutly detested ... Mister Crabtree, a refined and unassuming elderly gentleman, who had been an highly efficacious educator for the past thirty-five years, had undertaken the daunting chore of tackling the position of schoolmaster at the storied edifice, and was fully aware of the challenges at hand, having spent many sleepless nights trying to determine the best course of action for handling almost certain confrontation with Master Goodfellow ... consequently, he had settled on a theory, maybe if he were to give Henry the impression that he and his classmates were ultimately responsible for determining rules for good behavior, the ploy just might disarm him enough to keep him under control, after all, Mister Crabtree knew that he could never physically restrain Henry's 'oft tetchiness and fits of hostility ... however, after enduring three and a half decades of successful adolescent didactics, he was known to be extremely proficient at psychological manipulation, particularly at the juvenile level ... Standing in the back of the room like a swaggering peafowl was a rugged fellow well over six feet tall ... a flannel shirt with rolled sleeves exposed strong, sinewy arms, and scruffy locks of auburn hair lay crammed 'neath a well-worn newsboy hat ... more notable was the intimidatingly icy stare and persistent sneer on his sparsely whiskered face ... hovering around the imposing hulk was a group of smaller lads, which in appearance seemed to be equally tough ... his classmates were terrified of him, and many grown men around those parts had no desire to tussle with this overgrown, juvenile behemoth ... the infamous Henry Goodfellow ... Mister Crabtree cleared his throat, introduced himself to the class, then explained that he was permitting each enrollee to offer up one proposed rule each, which upon approval by the entire student body, would be adopted as official school policy for the remainder of the year ... everyone seemed quite agreeable to this unusual course of action, especially Henry, who figured he could use it to his advantage sometime in the near future ... each student wrote their proposal on a small piece of scrap paper, and Mister Crabtree collected each of them in an old cigar box ... then Mister Crabtree read each suggestion out loud as the class voiced either a yea or a nay ... every rule was unanimously accepted ... even Henry Goodfellow's rule, which was that anyone caught stealing was to receive three stinging blows across the bare back from a willow switch by whomsoever may have fallen victim to said theft, no exceptions ... Mister Crabtree didn't like this rule in the least, but he judged that the mere possibility of such severe punishment would dissuade any thoughts of thievery by any right-minded mortal ... Although still early, the fall semester seemed to be moving along exceptionally well, there had been no grievous or life-threatening disciplinary problems ... until that particular afternoon ... there before the class stood a manifestly umbrageous Henry Goodfellow, one hand grasping a long, thick willow switch with which he was methodically striking the wide palm of his other hand with loud, sinister smacks ... Henry angrily announced that some despicable larcenist had committed an unpardonable act of outright villainy ... some culprit had pilfered Henry's lunch, and he was now demanding that the worthless vagabond be found and brought to swift and sudden justice ... that being three stinging blows across the bare back from that willow switch (no exceptions) which he was menacingly waving through the air for all to behold ... that which Mister Crabtree had greatly feared had been abruptly dumped right in his lap ... The distinguished pedigog reminded the class that Henry's rule had been formally adopted by one and all, and reluctantly demanded that whomsoever was responsible for the alleged theft to immediately stand to their feet, step forward and present themselves to receive the prescribed punishment ... the old man hoped and prayed for the sake of the guilty party that they would simply remain quietly seated ... but to his shock and surprise, little Melvin Proctor wearily rose to his feet and slowly plodded to the front of the room ... Melvin was a thin, underweight young boy who came from a poor family at the mouth of Mill Hollar ... his daddy had been killed in a war that Melvin never had come to understand, and his mother always told the skinny lad that he was now the man of the house, and that he should conduct himself accordingly ... well, now he was being a man ... ragged clothes ... growling stomach ... hollow gaze and all ... he looked right up into the glaring eyes of Henry Goodfellow and told him that he was sorry for taking his lunch, that he would somehow make it right, but that there had been no food at the Proctor home for nearly a week, his sister had been awful hungry, and had cried for many days ... Melvin went on to say that he just couldn't bear to hear his little sister crying because of hunger anymore, so he had taken Henry's lunch so they would have something to eat that night ... and now prepared to accept full responsibility for his actions, Melvin removed his threadbare shirt to reveal a skinny torso, backbone and rib cage clearly protruding through his pale skin ... and as he bent over to brace himself against the oak desk you could hear the piteous sound of huge tears dropping onto the dusty planking of the classroom floor ... Everyone stood breathlessly silent with tearful eyes awaiting Henry Goodfellow's response ... with voice breaking for the first time ever, Henry looked at Mister Crabtree and asked if he was permitted make an amendment to his rule ... Mister Crabtree told him that it would be permissible if the rest of the class agreed ... so Henry offered that if anyone were to step forward and stand in place of any guilty person, that they could receive any due punishment in their stead ... Mister Crabtree along with the entire class agreed ... then Henry handed the sturdy switch to Mister Crabtree, picked up Melvin's tattered shirt from the floor, and gently placed it on his bony back as he led the frightened boy back to his seat ... then he returned to the front, removed his shirt, grabbed the corners of the desk and directed Mister Crabtree to administer Melvin Proctor's scourging to his own bare back ... From that day forward, Henry Goodfellow would always bring two lunches to school, one for himself, and one packed a bit heavier for Melvin Proctor, with enough for him to eat his fill and have plenty leftover to take home to his sister and mother ... Henry seemed to have a better demeanor as of late, he was turning into a man ... a man just like the diminutive Melvin Proctor ... sometimes mercy and compassion just ain't found in the usual, expected places ... --sja
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On a crisp, autumn morning, as the waking sun began spraying golden bands of light above the distant horizon, I caught my mind drifting back in time with fond memories of my beloved grandfather ... reminiscing as to how, as a young, impressible boy, I would eagerly sit poised at his feet on an overturned wooden crate as he rhythmically rocked away idle hours, nestled comfortably in his old rocking chair, while telling gripping stories of exotic and far away places of which he had visited, and of the scores of intriguing people he had encountered throughout his numerous travels across the globe ... With wry grin and piercing eyes, that grand, old adventurer told of sailing the rough inlets of the Gulf of Alaska, as majestic Blue Whales swam playfully alongside the boat launching frothy mists of water into the briny air ... having the privilege of observing pairs of bald eagles feeding their young eaglets along the sand bars and cottonwood trees as he fished for King Salmon on the Chilkat River ... daring to go big game hunting in Zimbabwe in pursuit of dangerous Black Rhino and Cape Buffalo, among a host of other savage and fierce beasts ... pursuing trophy Bighorn Mountain Sheep and gigantic Brown Bear in remote wilderness areas of Alaska and British Columbia ... he told of the hospitable natives who dwelt near the cliffs of the Nile Valley taking him on rafting excursions down the treacherous Nile River ... touring the immense Pyramids, seeing the Great Sphinx of Egypt and viewing ancient Egyptian mummies ... joining climbing expeditions on Mt. Sinai, trekking across the vast and geologically diverse Sinai Desert and treading the bustling streets of glamorous cities such as Paris, London, Rome, Bangkok, Munich, Cape Town, Sydney, Singapore, Istanbul among countless others ... he left behind footprints on every continent ... set sail on the seven seas ... beheld the seven wonders of the world ... dined with rich and poor ... and so much more ... my how I would like to have been right there by his side ... Each time my grandfather recounted one of his marvelous adventures, I would express to him just how much I wished that I too could have been right there by his side at each and every instance ... his riposte would always be that "I had always been right there with him 'in my imagination', and that was just as good" ... one lazy afternoon, I asked him if there was anyplace that he desired to visit of which he had not yet gone ... he began to slowly rock his creaky chair back and forth as he gazed toward me with beguiling, blue eyes, then a rare tear began to inch slowly down his weathered cheek as he softly replied, "Well boy, about the only place I haven't been yet is to the Emerald City where my Father sits on His beautiful throne ... I sure would like to walk down those golden thoroughfares ... fall on my knees before my precious Lord, and give praise and thanks for all He has done ... then maybe sit in my chair 'neath the tree of life and watch that pure river of water of life flow by ... clear as crystal ... yes sir, I sure would like to go there" ...
One cold, winter evening, decades later, I received the mournful news that my dear grandfather had passed away ... the stately, old man had made his way outside to sit in his favorite chair, and after just a few short minutes, the rhythmic sound of his rocking abruptly ceased ... he had at last embarked on his final journey ... the day preceding his burial, as I spoke with various members of the family, I mentioned that granddad had certainly lived a full and fascinating life, especially taking into consideration all the worldly travels and exciting adventures he had experienced during the span of nearly a century ... I was met with surprising silence and puzzled looks, then they proceeded to explain that in reality he had never ventured beyond a fifty mile radius of the mountain homestead where he was born, and where he had ultimately lived out all his days ... he had spent the majority of his long existence crawling on his hands and knees, his strong, calloused hands gripping pick and shovel, digging coal by the dim light of a carbide lamp strapped to his head, miles below the earth's surface ... when work was scarce in the dark and damp mines, he fell timber with a crosscut saw and a heavy double-bitted axe in the hollows and hills, and atop steep ridges that surround the grassy valley ... he raised livestock and grew crops on that rocky farm in his 'spare time', earning just enough money for necessities ... he could neither read nor write beyond third grade level ... he never made it as far as high school ... nor could he 'legally' drive the old flatbed truck that he nervously wheeled to the feed mill in town, faithfully, every Saturday morning ... I sat there for a few moments aghast in disbelief as I pondered as to how this could possibly be so ... those wondrous adventures ... those fantastic, far away places ... then suddenly it all came back to me as I recalled grandpa's words ... "I had always been right there with him 'in my imagination', and that was just as good" ... he had been simply illustrating to me, by telling all those remarkable tales, how that a person has no limits as to what they can become ... or where they can go ... or what they can achieve with mere imagination ... and I must now say that I too have traversed the four corners of the globe, and experienced many incredible things ... all while strapped in the passenger seat, peering through the windows of my mind ... and I know with certainty, that as the waking sun begins spraying golden bands of light above the distant horizon, that grandpa is slowly rocking away idle hours, nestled comfortably in his creaky chair ... in the midst of the Emerald City ... 'neath the tree of life ... watching that pure river of water of life flow by ... clear as crystal ... while at his feet, awaits an overturned wooden crate ... --sja
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Well I reckon I'll tell you fellers another story about my old friend Lamar ... Lamar T. Beefeater to be exact ... go ahead and settle in because this might take a while ... now then ... not only was Lamar a self ascribed inventor ... he was a chronic thief too ... and to make matters worse ... Lamar was also a connoisseur of fine tobaccos ... along with some of the cheap stuff ... especially that which he would often swipe from Mr. Beefeater's dresser drawer ... ultimately, Lamar's love of tobacco combined with his proclivity to 'borrow' other folks' property would earn him a whole stack of trouble ... every time Lamar's pappy would catch Lamar with his Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco in hand ... or jaw ... he would immediately haul ol' Lamar out to the wood shed for a few lessons on not stealin' and not chewin' ... especially when it pertained to his own stash of Mail Pouch ... well the lessons weren't doing any good ... so Lamar's pappy cogitated and cerebrated as to a solution to his conundrum ... now Mr. Beefeater wasn't all that concerned about the stealing ... because he too was known to have sticky fingers on various occasions ... no ... the thing that bothered him the most was that Lamar was constantly heisting his tobacco ... and he was getting fed up with it ... somehow he had to convince Lamar to quit chewing ... and he had figured out just how to go about it ... he knew that Lamar had a morbidly dreadful fear of ghoulish creatures ... and monsters of all sorts ... so the next time he caught Lamar with his tobacco he told him that if he kept on stealing and chewing his tobacco ... that he would no doubt turn into a sea monster or worse ... and it worked ... for awhile ... Now there was another unscrupulous character who lived in town by the name of Lester Doolittle... a well-known and infamous town fixture ... Lester was nothing more than an older version of Lamar ... he too was a thief ... and he loved his tobacco ... or your tobacco if he could get his hands on it ... well one night the old general store got robbed ... and when the sheriff arrived he discovered that the only items missing were two cases of Beechnut Chewing Tobacco and a roll of Copenhagen ... case cracked! ... they went straightaway over to Lester's place and there he sat on his back porch with what was left of those two cases of Beechnut along with a roll of Copenhagen ... Lester was wearing this big ol' grin while at the same time trying to hold in nearly four whole pokes of that Beechnut Chewing Tobacco in his jaws ... well to make a long story short ... Lamar got to spend the next eight months as a guest at the county jail ... all the older town folk knew what Lester's fate was ... and where he was ... but the only thing us young boys knew was that Lester had robbed the general store ... had took a bunch of tobacco ... had chewed nearly all of that tobacco ... had got caught ... and had now mysteriously disappeared ... but Lamar had come to the solid conclusion that because of the theft of the tobacco Lester Doolittle had certainly been turned into a slimy sea monster and was most likely swimming around out there in some murky lake or ocean all by his lonesome for the rest of his miserable existence ... I'm getting to the finish of it all now ... a couple weeks later Lamar and me decided to go catfishing down at his pappy's farm pond ... we fished all afternoon and never even got one, single nibble ... it seemed as though those fish were nervous or something ... spooked ... so Lamar tossed his pole down on the bank ... reached into his hip pocket ... and pulled out a brand-new, shiny poke of Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco ... "Where'd you get that", I asked ... Lamar just grinned as he replied, "Out of my pappy's dresser drawer" ... "What about all those ghouls and monsters?", I asked ... "Just bunk", he said as he loaded the entire bag of tobacco into his mouth and began working up some juice ... just when he had worked up a good spit ... we heard Mr. Beefeater's old Ford pickup truck come rattling up the dirt road leaving a cloud of thick dust behind as it bounced along ... "What am I going to do now?", Lamar screamed ... "If pappy catches me with another chew he might just kill me good this time" ... "Toss it in the pond", I replied ... "No, it'll only float on top", he cried ... and here came Mr. Beefeater walking toward the pond with his dinner bucket tucked under his arm ... ol' Lamar spit out that big chaw and set it on the big treble hook attached to his fishing line ... along with three or four heavy lead weights ... and a bright red and yellow plastic bobber ... then he drew back and cast that whole contraption all the way out into the middle of that pond where it landed with a loud clunk! ... then slowly settled down to the bottom with nothing but that bobber sticking up ... just in the nick of time too 'cause there stood his pappy, "Any luck boys?" ... "No!", we replied in unison ... "Well you fellers better call it a day and come on to the house for some supper now" ... and as he turned to walk away there was the biggest commotion out there in the middle of that pond that I had ever seen in my entire young life ... Lamar's bobber had completely disappeared and he was holding on for dear life as something big was trying to drag him and his pole into the water ... Mr. Beefeater ran down to the edge of the pond and grabbed Lamar around the waist yelling, "Reel him in boy, reel him him!" ... and with my help ... we drug an enormous beast up out of that water and onto the sedgy bank after nearly an hour of tusslin' with whatever it was on the other end of that line ... we were later informed by Mr. Beefeater that this "beast" in question was nothing more than an angry Great Northern Pike ... but neither Lamar nor myself had ever heard of such a critter, nor had we ever had the displeasure of actually seeing one with our own eyeballs ... I reckon some of the local boys had caught it up at the lake, then slipped it into that pond as a practical joke ... that thing was probably more than five feet long and even homelier than Lamar ... and there lying just inside that Pike's jutting lower jaw was that big chaw of tobacco still stuck to the treble hook which was now firmly embedded in that creature's fat lip... well, needless to say ... when Lamar saw that big wad of tobacco in what he most assuredly thought was the mouth of a "sea monster" ... he turned as pale as a new white bed sheet and nearly passed out ... but before he could lift even as much as an eyebrow ... he looked that grand and wondrous fish straight in the eyes and ruefully said ... "I sure am sorry ... Lester Doolittle!" ... sja
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The brumous August morning that dawned bearing a foreboding threat of rain had reluctantly given way to radiant sunbeams threading their way through billowy clouds floating proudly across a cerulean sky ... gentle breezes conducted the dulcet redolence of yellow honeysuckle intermingled with the delightful aroma of hot buttered popcorn, hot dogs, boiled peanuts, cotton candy and candied apples all throughout the old ballpark ... the temperature had risen to a pleasant 71 degrees ... a perfect day for baseball ... and for the boys of summer ... There was nary a vacant seat in the place ... many folks were standing wherever they could gain a suitable view of the playing field ... excited fans had stocked up on food and cold drinks before settling in for the game ... a beautiful rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" had just concluded, players had all been announced, and the visiting nine had assumed their respective positions on the field as the pitcher took his final warm-up tosses ... the opposing hitter strolled into the batters' box as the ump gave the signal while shouting "play ball!" ... BaseballPitcherButterflies were dancing a frenzied version of the "Jitterbug Waltz" in the pit of the young ace's roiling stomach inducing waves of galling nausea, however this was not uncharted territory for the lanky right-hander as he posed on the mound, peering in with a sneer toward the catcher crouching behind home plate ... those butterflies had little to do with fear, but much to do with a desire to compete, and to win ... the husky catcher dropped the sign, and Gibson unleashed a beautiful bender far from the strike zone which danced back in painting the corner of the plate, freezing the stupefied batter in his tracks as the implacable umpire sternly bellowed "Stee-rike!" ... time to showcase the patented fast ball ... the scowling flamethrower let loose with a grunt, and you could hear the blistering sphere buzzing like an angry bumblebee as it approached the dish, veering in on the hands of the unnerved hitter, coercing him to swing through the pitch, then slapping the catcher's overstuffed mitt with an emphatic pop for yet another exigent "Steee-rike!" ... the now confident hurler received the fuming ball back from the catcher with a smart snap of his Rawlings glove before taking a leisurely stroll like a haughty peafowl around the dusty mound ... he was finally coming to the welcome realization that those fluttering butterflies were mercifully settling down ... and so was he ... For the strapping batsman, his soul had also been seared amidst the raging flames of that same competitive fire, he had faced notorious pitchers of this caliber countless times in the past, many with great success, and was determined to thwart the efforts of this worthy opponent poised defiantly on the mound from getting the better of him ... not on this perfect day for baseball ... Williams believed that the crafty righty would in all likelihood deliver another filthy curve ... he dug in ... waggled his bat ... and waited ... but instead it was a hard scorcher, too high and called for a ball ... alright, maybe next pitch ... again he took the sizzling heat for a ball ... Williams was now wondering if Gibson had finally lost command of his "good stuff", and may be incapable of getting his fast ball over for a strike ... he was convinced that a breaking ball would assuredly be forthcoming ... he took a long, deep breath, firmly planting his nails in the sandy soil as he anxiously waited like a coiled viper stalking it's prey ... Gibson toed the rubber while coldly staring Williams squarely in the eyes, and with a scowl on his determined face, he propelled the baseball toward the plate with a menacing growl ... the seasoned slugger had gauged it just right, and the ball looked as large as a watermelon floating seemingly in slow motion toward him ... Williams unleashed his trusted Louisville Slugger as smoothly as a lumberjack laying the keen edge of a broadaxe to the root of a decaying jack pine as he made lethal contact with Gibson's meandering curve ball ... the clobbered orb arched skyward as it tauntingly disappeared over the left field wall before the eyes of the jeering throng ... As Williams triumphantly rounded the diamond, he was showered with a deluge of stinging condemnation from the dispirited, hometown faithful ... Gibson stood motionless on the lonely mound, his head lowered toward the ground in humiliation ... the home team eventually went on to win the game that day 5 to 4 ... but there is a thin line between the thrill, and the agony ... at first glance you might think this story is touching on some fantasy match-up involving the great Hall of Fame pitcher Pack Robert "Bob" Gibson, born in 1935, or the incomparable Hall of Fame slugger Theodore Samuel "Ted" Williams (1918-2002), also known as "The Thumper" ... far from it ... this brief narrative pertains to a game played by a ten-year-old pitcher by the name of Grant Gibson of the Pocahontas Warriors and an eleven-year-old slugger named Jackie Williams of the Clarksville Mudhawks, one in a series of games held in the Little League regional championship tournament in Nashville, Tennessee ... truly a perfect day for baseball ... and for the boys of summer ... "Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel, not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better than someone else. This is the nature of man and the name of the game" --Ted Williams --sja
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It is well-documented in the history of baseball's storied and colorful past that it's once longstanding color barrier was soundly shattered on April 18, 1946, the day Jack Roosevelt (Jackie) Robinson, born in Cairo, Georgia to a sharecropping family on January 31, 1919, was signed to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization by owner Branch Rickey, becoming the first African-American of the 20th century to join Major League baseball. Robinson made his first appearance with the Montreal Royals in the International League, and after just a single season with Montreal, the gifted athlete made his big league debut as a Brooklyn Dodger on April 15, 1947, when he played first base against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. Jackie Robinson helped catapult the Dodgers to the National League Pennant, and earned National League Rookie Of The Year honors ... During those early years, Jackie Robinson endured hardhearted mistreatment from fellow ball players and baseball fans alike, all with quiet dignity, but his entrance into America's favorite pastime had served to spin rusted tumblers in the doorlocks of prejudice thereby enabling access by other players of color such as Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Joe Black and Larry Doby, the first black star of the Cleveland Indians. By 1952, more than 150 black players comprised of the "cream of the crop" from Negro League rosters had been enticed to join organized baseball's integrated majors and minors. However, few people have given much thought as to how Robinson came to the attention of major league scouts, where he had played before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, or what the nature of baseball might have been in the black community before integration in the major league. I would like to take a brief journey back in the history of American sports and society to the fascinating era of the Negro Leagues, and explore the events that brought about the great Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and white America ... The original National Association of Base Ball Players, which formed in 1867, had banned all black athletes, but by the late 1870's, many African-American players were on active rosters of white, minor league teams. In the North, between the end of the Civil War and 1890, a good number of African-Americans played alongside their white counterparts on major and minor league teams, but following brief stays with white teams, most of these players felt the hurtful sting of regional prejudices, along with an unofficial color ban. However, there were some notable exceptions who built long and successful careers in white professional baseball ... In 1884, John W, "Bud" Fowler, an African-American with more than a decade of experience as an itinerant, professional player, was signed by the Stillwater, Minnesota club in the Northwestern league. Fowler preferred to play as a second-baseman, but played virtually every position on the field for Stillwater, further heightening the reputation that had brought him to the attention of white team owners. "Bud" Fowler's baseball career continued through the close of the 19th Century, much of which was spent on the rosters of minor league clubs in organized baseball ... In 1883, Moses "Fleetwood" Walker, a former Oberlin College star, began his professional baseball career with the Toledo club, also in the Northwestern league. Almost from the beginning of his career, Walker was a better than average hitter, and was considered by many to be among baseball's finest catchers. In 1884, the Toledo club joined the American Association, and Walker became the first black player to play with a major league franchise. By 1886, many black players were playing with teams in the "outlaw" leagues and independent barnstorming clubs along with Fowler and Walker, including George Stovey and Ulysses Franklin "Friendly Frank" Grant. The best black players found a measure of tolerance, if not acceptance, in white baseball in the North and Midwest until the end of the 1880's. But that situation made an abrupt change in 1890 ... In 1890, as the season began in the International League, the most prestigious of the minor league circuits, there were no black players. With no formal announcement having been made, a "gentlemen's agreement" was made which barred black players from participation for the next fifty-five years. For a time, African-Americans were able to find work in lesser leagues, but within only a few short years no team in organized baseball would accept black players ... the color barrier was firmly in place by the turn of the century ... As Walker, Fowler and Grant, along with many others struggled to find a spot (and keep it) in organized baseball, other black players were pursuing careers with the more than 200 all-black independent teams that performed throughout the country from the early 1880's forward. Through the close of the century, powerful Eastern teams such as the Cuban Giants, Cuban X Giants and Harrisburg Giants played both independently and in loosely organized leagues. Professional black baseball had began to blossom throughout America's heartland, and even in the South by the early 1900's ... The emergence of potent black teams during the early years of the 20th Century, such as the Chicago Giants, Indianapolis ABC's, St. Louis Giants and Kansas City Monarchs, rose to prominence and presented a legitimate challenge to the claim of diamond supremacy made by Eastern clubs such as the Lincoln Giants in New York, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Cuban Stars and Homestead (Pa.) Grays. Black baseball was also thriving in Birmingham's industrial leagues in the South, and teams like the Nashville Standard Giants and Birmingham Black Barons were establishing solid regional reputations ... Black baseball had become, perhaps, the number one entertainment attraction for urban black populations throughout the nation by the end of World War I. It was then that one of black baseball's most influential personalities, Andrew "Rube" Foster, owner of the Chicago American Giants, determined that the time had arrived for a truly organized and stable Negro league. In 1920, under Foster's leadership, the Negro National League was born in Kansas City, fielding eight teams comprised of the Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABC's, Kansas City Monarchs and St. Louis Giants ... "We are the ship; all else the sea" was how Rube Foster described his new league ... that same year, Thomas T.Wilson, owner of the Nashville Elite Giants, organized the Negro Southern League, with teams in Nashville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Montgomery and New Orleans. Just three years later in 1923, the Eastern Colored League was formed, featuring the Hilldale Club, Stars (East), Brooklyn Royal Giants, Bacharach Giants, Lincoln Giants and Baltimore Black Sox ... the Negro National League continued on successfully throughout most of the 1920's, until ultimately succumbing to the financial hardships of the Great Depression and sadly dissolving at the close of the 1931 season. In 1933, Pittsburgh bar owner Gus Greenlee organized the second Negro National League, quickly taking up where Foster's league left off, and became the dominant force in black baseball from 1933 through 1949 ... From 1920 through the 1940's, the Negro Southern League was in continuous operation and held the position of black baseball's only operating major circuit for the 1931 season. The Negro American League was formed in 1937, bringing into it's fold the best clubs in the South and Midwest, and stood as the opposing circuit to Greenlee's Negro National League until the latter disbanded after the 1949 season ... the three major Negro League circuits had steadily built what was to become one of the largest and most successful black-owned enterprises in America, despite having weathered the storms of the difficult economic challenges thrust upon the entire nation by the Great Depression ... the existence and success of these leagues stood as a testament to the determination and resolve of black America to forge ahead in the face of racial segregation and social disadvantage ... Gus Greenlee had firmly intended to field the most powerful baseball team in America when he organized the Negro National League in 1933 ... and he may well have achieved his goal. In 1935, his Pittsburgh Crawfords lineup showcased the talents of no less than five future Hall-Of-Famers, including the likes of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson and the great Oscar Charleston. During the mid-1930's, the Pittsburgh Crawfords were black baseball's premier team, but by the end of the decade that title was wrested away by Cumberland Posey's Homestead Grays, winning 9 consecutive Negro National League titles from the late 1930's through the mid-1940's. The Grays had bolstered their lineup with Hall-Of-Fame talent such as that of power-hitting first sacker Buck Leonard, along with featuring former Crawfords stars Bell and Gibson ... During the 1930's and 1940's, the East-West All-Star game, which was played annually at Chicago's Comiskey Park, contributed greatly to the ever-growing national popularity of Negro League baseball. Conceived originally in 1933 by Gus Greenlee as a promotional tool, the game rapidly became black baseball's most popular attraction and biggest money maker. From the first game forward, the East-West Classic regularly packed Comiskey Park while showcasing the Negro League's finest talent ... the demands for social justice had swelled throughout America as World War II came to a close, and many felt that it could not be long until baseball's color barrier would come crashing down. African-Americans had not only proven themselves on the battlefield and seized an indisputable moral claim to an equal share in American life, the stars of black baseball had also proven their skills in venues like the East-West Classic and countless exhibition games against major league stars ... the time for integration had arrived ... Virtually all of the Negro Leagues' best talent had either left the league for opportunities with integrated teams or had grown too old to attract the attention of major league scouts during the four years immediately following Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Black team owners witnessed a financially devastating decline in attendance at Negro League games as a result of this sudden and dramatic departure of talented ballplayers. The handwriting was on the wall for the Negro Leagues as the attention of black fans had forever turned to the integrated major leagues ... after the 1949 season, the Negro National League disbanded, never to return ... after a long and successful run, black baseball's senior circuit was no longer a commercially viable enterprise. Though the Negro American League continued on throughout the 1950's, it had lost virtually all of it's fan appeal, along with the bulk of it's talent. The league closed it's doors for good in 1962, after a decade of operating as a shadow of it's former self ... the era of Negro League baseball had ground to a halt ... "the ship" had sank ... however, it's rich and colorful history had a profound impact, not only on our national pastime, but on America's social and moral character ... Not only was Jack Roosevelt Robinson, son of a sharecropping family from Cairo, Georgia the first African-American to play on a Major League baseball team in the 20th Century ... Robinson was also the first recipient of the Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 ... the first African-American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 ... the first Major League baseball player to be honored on a U.S. postage stamp in 1997 ... the first baseball player to have his uniform number (42) retired in perpetuity across all teams by the Major League in 1997 ... the first UCLA student to earn a varsity letter in all four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track in 1948 ... the first African-American baseball player to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 2003 ... and the first African-American to serve as Vice-President of a major American corporation, Chock Full O' Nuts 1957-1964 ... Jackie was also a recipient of the NAACP Spigam Medal in 1956 ... received an Honorary degree from Howard University in 1957 ... recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1985 ... and the Rookie of the Year Award was renamed the Jackie Robinson Award in 1987 ... Despite a myriad of impressive collegiate and professional athletic accomplishments over the course of Jackie Robinson's extraordinary and outstanding career, his integrity, courage and character off the field were indispensable attributes, not only in the life of the man, but more importantly in the melioration of the fragmented moral fabric of American society ... he not only possessed the courage to stare racism and hatred directly in the eye, he bravely defied it! ... while serving in the U.S. Army, Robinson was court-martialed for refusing to sit in the back of a segregated military bus ... he was later acquitted and honorably discharged from the Army ... Jackie Robinson endured unspeakable mistreatment, abuse and threats while attempting to play the game he loved ... but endure he did ... the many black players who came before him were genuine pioneers, true Americans (America must never forget them) ... they were steppingstones that led the way from the intolerance and discrimination of the Jim Crow era to the threshold of racial equality and integration in organized, professional baseball ... amid those stones lies a mighty cornerstone ... Jack Roosevelt (Jackie) Robinson (1919-1972) ... "There's not an American in this country free until every one of us is free." --Jackie Robinson --sja
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The following was taken from "Legends of the American Revolution," 1847, by George Lippard ... "Let me paint you a picture on the canvass of the Past" ... "It is a cloudless summer day. Yes, a clear blue sky arches and smiles above a quaint edifice, rising among giant trees, in the center of a wide city. That edifice is built of red brick, with heavy window frames and a massive hall door. The wide-spreading dome of Saint Peter's , the snowy pillars of the Parthenon, the gloomy glory of Westminster Abbey -- none of these, nor anything like these are here, to elevate this edifice of plain red brick into a gorgeous monument of architecture. Plain red brick walls; the windows partly framed in stone; the roof-eaves heavy with intricate carvings; the hall door ornamented with pillars of dark stone; such is the State House of Philadelphia, in this year of our Lord, 1776 ... Around this edifice stately trees arise. Yonder toward the dark wall of Walnut Street goal, spreads a pleasant lawn, enclosed by a plain board fence. Above our heads, these trees lock their massive limbs and spread their leafy canopy. There are walks here, too, not fashioned in squares or circles, but spreading in careless negligence along the lawn. Benches, too, rude benches, on which repose the forms of old men with gray hairs, and women with babes in their arms ... This is a beautiful day, and this is a pleasant lawn; but why do these clusters of citizens, with anxious faces, gather round the State House walls? There is the merchant in his velvet garb and ruffled shirt; there the Mechanic, with apron on his breast and tools in his hands; there the bearded Sailor and the dark-robed Minister, all grouped together. Why this anxiety on every face? This gathering in little groups all over the lawn? Yet hold a moment! In yonder wooden steeple, which crowns the red brick State House, stands an old man with white hair and sunburnt face. He is clad in humble attire, yet his eye gleams, as it is fixed upon the ponderous outline of the Bell, suspended in the steeple there. The old man tries to read the inscription on that bell, but cannot. Out upon the waves, far away in the forests; thus has his life been passed. He is no scholar, he scarcely can spell one of those strange words carved on the surface of that bell ... By his side, gazing in his face -- that sunburnt face-in wonder, stands a flaxen-haired boy, with laughing eyes of summer blue. "Come here, my boy; you are a rich man's child. You can read. Spell me those words, and I'll bless ye, my good child!" And the child raised himself on tip-toe and pressed his tiny hands against the bell, and read, in lisping tones, these memorable words: "Proclaim Liberty to all the Land and all the inhabitants thereof" ... The old man ponders for a moment on those strange words; then gathering the boy in his arms he speaks, "Look here, my child? Wilt do the old man a kindness? Then hasten you downstairs, and wait in the hall by the big door, until a man shall give you a message for me. A man with a velvet dress and a kind face, will come out from the big door, and give you a word for me. When he gives you that word, then run out yonder in the street, and shout it up to me. Do you mind?" ... It needed no second command. The boy with blue eyes and flaxen hair sprang from the old Bell-keeper's arms, and threaded his way down the dark stairs. The old Bell-keeper was alone. Many minutes passed. Leaning over the railing of the steeple, his face toward Chestnut Street, he looked anxiously for that fair-haired boy. Moments passed, yet still he came not. The crowds gathered more darkly along the pavement and over the lawn, yet still the boy came not ... "Oh," groaned the old man, "he has forgotten me! These old limbs will have to totter down the State House stairs, and climb up again, and all on account of that child--" As the word was on his lips, a merry, ringing laugh broke on the ear. There, among the crowds on the pavement, stood the blue-eyed boy, clapping his tiny hands, while the breeze blew his flaxen hair all about his face. And then, swelling his little chest, he raised himself on tip-toe, and shouted a single word, "Ring!" ... Do you see that old man's eye fire? Do you see that arm so suddenly bared to the shoulder, do you see that withered hand, grasping the iron Tongue of the Bell? The old man is young again; his veins are filled with new life. Backward and forward, with sturdy strokes, he swings the Tongue. The bell speaks out! The crowd in the street hear it, and burst forth in one long shout! Old Delaware hears it, and gives it back in the hurrah of her thousand sailors. The city hears it, and starts up from the desk and work-bench, as though an earthquake had spoken. Yet still while the sweat pours from his brow, that old Bell-keeper hurls the iron tongue, and still -- boom -- boom -- boom -- the Bell speaks to the city and to the world ... There is a terrible poetry in the sound of that State House Bell at dead of night, when striking it's sudden and solemn -- One! -- It rouses crime from it's task, mirth from it's wine-cup, murder from it's knife, bribery from it's gold. There is a terrible poetry in that sound. It speaks to us like a voice from our youth -- like a knell of God's judgment -- like a solemn yet kind remembrancer of friends, now dead and gone ... There is a terrible poetry in that sound at dead of night; but there was a day when the echo of that Bell awoke a world, slumbering in tyranny and crime! ... Yes, as the old man swung the Iron Tongue, the Bell spoke to all the world. That sound crossed the Atlantic -- pierced the dungeons of Europe -- the work shops of England -- the vassal-fields of France ... That Echo spoke to the slave -- bade him look from his toil -- and know himself a man ... That Echo startled the kings upon their crumbling thrones ... That Echo was the knell of King-craft, Priest-craft, and all other crafts born of the darkness of ages, and baptized in seas of blood ... Yes, the voice of that little boy, who lifting himself on tip-toe, with his flaxen hair blowing in the breeze, shouted -- "Ring!" -- had a deep and awful meaning in it's tones: Why did that word, "Ring!" -- why did that Echo of the State House Bell speak such deep and awful meaning to the world? Under that very bell, pealing out at noonday, in an old hall, 56 traders, farmers and mechanics had assembled to shake the shackles of the world ... Now let us look in on this band of plain men, met in such solemn council. It is now half an hour previous to the moment when the Bell ringer responded to the shout of the fair-haired boy ... ... Look over the faces of the 56 men and see every eye turned to the floor. There is silence in this hall -- every voice is hushed -- every face is stamped with a deep and awful responsibility. Why turns every glance to that door? ... The Committee of Three, who have been out all night, penning a parchment are about to appear. The parchment, with signatures of these men, written with the pen lying on yonder table will either make a world free -- or stretch these necks upon a gibbet. The door opens -- the Committee appear. The three advance to the table. The Parchment is laid there. Shall it be signed or not? ... Look! How they rush forward ... Look how the names blaze on the parchment ... And now the parchment is signed, and now let word ... go out to all the earth ... Let the Bell speak out the great truth!" ... Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia behind a veil of Congressionally imposed secrecy in June 1776 for a country wracked by military and political uncertainties. In anticipation for a vote for independence, the Continental Congress on June 11 appointed Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston as a committee to draft a declaration of independence. The committee then delegated Thomas Jefferson to undertake the task. Jefferson worked diligently in private for days to compose a document ... Jefferson then made a clean or "fair" copy of the composition declaration, which became the foundation of the document, labeled by Jefferson as the "original Rough draught." Revised first by Adams, then by Franklin, and then by the full committee, a total of forty-seven alterations including the insertion of three complete paragraphs was made on the text before it was presented to Congress on June 28. After voting for independence on July 2, the Congress then continued to refine the document, making thirty-nine additional revisions to the committee draft before it's final adoption on the morning of July 4. The "original Rough draught" embodies the multiplicity of corrections, additions and deletions that were made at each step. Although most of the alterations are in Jefferson's handwriting (Jefferson later indicated the changes he believed to have been made by Adams and Franklin), quite naturally he opposed many of the changes made to his document ... Congress then ordered the Declaration of Independence printed and late on July 4, John Dunlap, a Philadelphia printer, produced the first printed text of the Declaration of Independence, now known as the "Dunlap Broadside." The next day John Hancock, the president of the Continental Congress, began dispatching copies of the Declaration to America's political and military leaders. On July 9, George Washington ordered that his personal copy of the "Dunlap Broadside," sent to him by John Hancock on July 6, be read to the assembled American army at New York. In 1783 at war's end, General Washington brought his copy of the broadside home to Mount Vernon - one of only twenty-four known to exist ... On July 19, Congress ordered the production of an engrossed (officially inscribed) copy of the Declaration of Independence, which attending members of the Continental Congress, including some who had not voted for it's adoption, began to sign on August 2, 1776. This document is on permanent display at the National Archives ... Nearly 2 1/3 centuries after it's composition, the Declaration of Independence, just as Jefferson predicted on it's fiftieth anniversary in his letter to Roger C. Weightman, towers aloft as "the signal of arousing men to burst the chains ... to assume the blessings and security of self-government" and to restore "the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion" ... I hope you have enjoyed this brief reminder of America's history ... July 4 is but a few days away, consequently, with time being a disobliging factor on my part, I have gone ahead with the publishing of this post which should permit any interested reader a bit of time for historic and patriotic reflection ...my prayer is that all will have a glorious and safe "Independence Day" ... --sja ... with assistance from the Library of Congress